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Safer Spaces Training by Amna UK

Posted by jointrefugeeactionnetwork, words by Laramie Shubber, Communications & Digital Content Lead at Amna

In August 2021, the lives of thousands of Afghans turned upside down as the Taliban cemented their control of the country. Thousands of Afghans were evacuated all over the world as they awaited resettlement. Recognising the intense stress and overwhelm Afghans were likely to be experiencing, Amna began working with organisations and communities preparing to welcome evacuees to ensure adequate psychosocial support was available to support those fleeing. As part of this response, we developed our Introductory Training to Setting up Safer Spaces and Trauma-sensitive Care, a free introduction to non-clinical psychosocial healing care, online and thus accessible to people all over the world.

The training continued to be relevant when, just one year later in 2022, war broke out in Ukraine. Across the UK, hundreds opened up their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the war at home. Overnight, British families welcomed women and children who had fled unspeakable horrors and often had to leave members of their families behind.

Those welcoming refugees are not always prepared for the different levels of trauma that some hold in their bodies. They want to provide support but are often unsure how to do so in a sensitive way, that doesn’t cross boundaries or cause more distress.

Amna’s Introductory Trainings are a free, 3-hour online training offer open to anyone interested in learning more about how to support forcibly displaced communities. The participants are often from a wide range of backgrounds: volunteers working with refugees in their communities, frontline mental health practitioners, yoga trauma specialists, and of course refugee accommodation providers. Participants join the online space from all over the world including Greece, France, Syria, Lebanon, and the USA.

Each session is unique, co-created by the participants and Amna’s International Training & Capacity Building Team. Our training is experiential, which means that throughout the three hours we take participants on a journey to somatically experience the training content so that participants are learning actively, not only through listening and reading but through experiencing as well.

In fact, it is the same values which guide Amna’s programmes (respect, connection, curiosity and understanding) that also guide our learning spaces and training approach. It’s based on the foundation that effective learning can only be achieved when one feels safe in the learning space, regulated in their bodies and intrinsically motivated to engage with the training subjects. Just as healing is a process of helping someone to begin to feel physical and psychologically safe again.

To do that Amna's trainers invite activities that promote creative expression and restorative connection with oneself and others. Within these activities, Amna introduces learning topics that participants discuss and reflect about including our identities, privileges, conscious and unconscious biases and how they (inevitably) impact our work with refugee communities. We then look to apply both these lenses – values-based and identity-informed – to explore what we mean by trauma, the biological changes in the body that influence our behaviour following traumatic episodes, and the importance of recognising how the socio-cultural context they occur in impacts how we both experience and understand trauma. 

The core topics within the training include Amna’s values-based approach, being trauma-sensitive and identity-informed in how we work with forcibly displaced communities, non-violent communication and an introduction to creative expression tools that support psychosocial work, for example tools that can be used by non-clinical specialists to help people restore a sense of safety in their bodies, and with dignity such as music, arts and crafts, storytelling, theatre, movement and more. Our longer training and capacity-strengthening programmes work with community organisations supporting refugee communities and place emphasise on promoting refugee leadership where community members may facilitate healing sessions.

We also introduce tools to support participants to express and also regulate themselves, whether that translates to needing to energise or calm themselves. We know that it’s only possible to provide effective support when you yourself are taking care of your own wellbeing.

Refugees will have lost their traditional support networks, such as extended family, friends, even parents and arriving in a new place can be very isolating without that support especially when the future is still uncertain. At Amna we believe that community networks within which people feel a sense of safety, belonging, solidarity and are supported to regulate can help prevent long-term impacts of traumatic events, preventing the need for longer-term clinical care. Our training is part of destigmatising the idea that only mental health professionals can or should support forcibly displaced communities and building the supportive community structures that can help refugees rediscover feelings of belonging and joy and strengthen the resilience to rebuild their lives. 

To find out when our next training is, visit Amna's website.

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